So, have you ever had someone say something to you that was sort of rude, or out of line, or just downright wrong? And when you had the courage to say something to them about it, and call them out on their behavior, you got: “Wow, you’re overreacting completely! It’s not a big deal, I was just kidding.”
Yeah, you just got gaslighted.
Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy. [...] Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction — whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness — in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal.
I was linked to a great article recently about the phenomena of gaslighting, and I really wanted to share it here. Reading the article made me realize that there are a lot of really negative ways to communicate, and sometimes the repercussions of those patterns can’t really be fully observed right away. In our pole dancing culture, it’s so difficult to be positive all the time with so much competition and cattiness around us. Honestly, without making it about being a feminist, or a woman, there are a lot of people out there who are really hard to deal with. Seeing someone else describe what gaslighting is, and knowing that there is a term for this behavior, comforted me somehow. While the term is used to describe a wide spectrum of manipulation, odds are you have been at the receiving end of it at some point in time.
I’ve had a lot of experiences with this myself. I work in a male-dominated industry, and I can’t tell you how many times I have firmly called out a subcontractor on something that they messed up on, and got: “Sweetie, we’ll fix it, you don’t need to get so worked up.” By now, I have a pretty good series of comebacks to that, all of which involve a pretty swift verbal kick to the nuts, but I haven’t just gotten this from men, and I’m sure you haven’t either.
I ended a friendship a few years back based on this problem. Someone that I thought of as a really fun new friend, started making a lot of snarky remarks, cutting me down in really subtle ways. Whenever I brought it up with her, she would literally stand there, look at me like I had suddenly grown a third head, and say: “Wow, I was totally kidding, I thought you could take a joke.” Hearing that really threw me off, and put me on the defensive. It took me a while to realize that this was a “toxic friend”, because I went into a cycle of self-doubt and thinking maybe I was being overly sensitive– it resulted in me staying in that relationship longer than I should have, and it took some pretty nasty actions from her before I realized that I really needed out of the friendship.
Part of the article that really resonated with me was reading about what happens to a person who is gaslighted over and over again. I recognized some women in my life in this description, and some of myself:
But gaslighting can be as simple as someone smiling and saying something like, “You’re so sensitive,” to somebody else. Such a comment may seem innocuous enough, but in that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how someone else should feel.
It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.
Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: It renders some women emotionally mute.
These women aren’t able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can’t tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can’t tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.
When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, “Forget it, it’s okay.”
That “forget it” isn’t just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal. It’s heartbreaking.
No wonder some women are unconsciously passive aggressive when expressing anger, sadness, or frustration. For years, they have been subjected to so much gaslighting that they can no longer express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them.
They say, “I’m sorry,” before giving their opinion. In an email or text message, they place a smiley face next to a serious question or concern, thereby reducing the impact of having to express their true feelings.
You know how it looks: “You’re late ”
These are the same women who stay in relationships they don’t belong in, who don’t follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.
The article definitely simplifies complex cause-and-effect relationships. But I think that recognizing this phenomena, and refusing to be cowed to it, and calling it out for what it is, is so important. By taking control of a situation where you are made to feel out-of-control, you are claiming something important. Insecurity and self-doubt are often things that we have a hard enough time dealing with– we don’t need someone else out there inflicting those feelings on us.
Tomorrow’s post: Tuesday Tips…